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Why Biden has a rare opportunity for early success

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans have taken this Biden statement out of context to push back against the President's executive actions.

Posted: Jan 31, 2021 5:50 PM
Updated: Jan 31, 2021 5:50 PM

Over five decades in Washington, President Joe Biden has watched seven newly-elected presidents get started. Improbably, he has the chance for a stronger opening act than any of them.

Just 12 days into Biden's presidency, the emerging alignment of forces holds the promise of two giant early legislative breakthroughs. The potential for rapid payoffs in public health and economic recovery exceeds anything recent predecessors managed to find.

That's not because Biden swept into office on a landslide. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all won larger electoral majorities with wider popular vote margins.

It's not because of superior numerical muscle in Congress. Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump, as well as Clinton and Obama, enjoyed bigger partisan majorities in the House and Senate.

And it's not because Biden's grandfatherly persona bests Reagan's charisma, Clinton's persuasiveness or Obama's star quality. At 78, the oldest president in American history has made understated calm his early signature.

Instead, the size of Biden's opportunity reflects the unique circumstances of early 2021: a deadly pandemic that could subside with an effective vaccination push, a battered economy poised to rebound when it does, the unfinished business of a disgraced predecessor, and the determination of fellow Democrats to overcome obstruction by increasingly-radicalized Republican adversaries.

All that raises confidence among White House officials that their bare majorities in Congress can unite to enact a Covid-19 relief package close to the $1.9 trillion version Biden has requested. Right after that, Democrats intend to do it again for an even costlier infrastructure plan.

"He's facing the deepest problems but the biggest opportunities of any president probably since FDR," observes Biden adviser Anita Dunn, who opened her career as an intern in the Carter White House. "Even with narrow majorities in Congress, he has the opportunity to build broad bipartisan support for his program -- not necessarily in Congress but with the American people."

Building consensus -- even without congressional GOP

"Not necessarily in Congress" is the key phrase for understanding the White House approach. A veteran of 36 years in the Senate before becoming Obama's vice president, Biden framed his inaugural speech around unifying the country.

But he explained last week that unity, as he defines it, does not require votes from the congressional Republicans who unyieldingly opposed Obama on every front.

Rather, Biden cited the need for his Covid relief plan to attract broad popular support and inspire consensus among experts that it meets the needs of the moment. He already holds supportive evidence on both counts.

The US Chamber of Commerce and former Trump economist Kevin Hassett have praised the package. Trump himself pushed loudly for $2,000 Covid assistance checks to individual Americans -- the level Biden proposes to reach by adding $1,400 to the $600 checks Congress enacted late last year.

A poll by the Harvard School of Public Health for Politico last month showed at least eight in 10 rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats alike consider it "extremely important" that the new President and Congress pass a major Covid relief bill to aid individuals and businesses and expand vaccinations, testing and personal protective equipment. A Monmouth University poll last week showed that, by a 71%-25% margin, Americans want Republicans to work with Biden rather than try to constrain his agenda.

To the contrary, GOP congressional leaders have resumed reflexive opposition. Barely three weeks after a violent insurrection that trashed the Capitol, killed a police officer and threatened their own lives, most Republican lawmakers have abandoned any initial impulses to hold Trump accountable following his second impeachment by the House.

That rallies Biden's party behind him. Armed with special budget rules that shield the Covid relief bill from Republican filibuster, Democrats won't linger long in negotiations with the few Republicans showing even minimal willingness to cooperate.

A big asset for a new President

Light at the end of the pandemic tunnel generates additional political momentum.

So does the prospect of an economic snap-back if American life can regain a semblance of normalcy. Business economist Diane Swonk sees Biden's proposal swelling overall 2021 growth from the 4% currently projected to 6%; Moody's economist Mark Zandi says it would accelerate the return to full employment by a year, to the end of 2022.

On infrastructure, Biden can harness years of pent-up demand that Republicans resisted under Trump and Obama alike. He benefits from a growing economic consensus that America's ability to borrow cheaply makes the benefit of public investment exceed the burden of increased debt.

And as with Covid relief, congressional Democrats can protect Biden's infrastructure package from Republican filibuster.

That doesn't mean the President isn't seeking, and can't gain, some Republican support for either initiative. His history, temperament and leverage make that possible.

But it means he doesn't have to. That represents an enormous asset for a new President who has learned how quickly the window for action in Congress can close. Clinton, Obama and Trump all saw their parties lose control of the House after their first two years.

"We never talk about experience when we're picking a president," says Ted Kaufman, the longtime Biden friend and aide who helped lead the transition to the White House. "This is the right guy for the right time."

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 387485

Reported Deaths: 5116
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah59768836
Washington41571393
Marion39592504
Clackamas32426376
Lane29856354
Jackson24672350
Deschutes23182185
Umatilla15087180
Linn14488178
Douglas13236286
Josephine10057240
Yamhill9665142
Klamath8979145
Polk813698
Benton605137
Malheur591586
Coos5573106
Columbia423855
Jefferson416865
Lincoln357252
Union336854
Crook330156
Wasco314846
Clatsop258335
Baker217531
Tillamook214345
Hood River211337
Morrow197025
Curry190136
Harney119332
Grant108314
Lake104016
Wallowa74713
Sherman1903
Gilliam1844
Wheeler1141
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 5060666

Reported Deaths: 74152
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles152491227121
San Diego4047084319
Riverside3849455306
San Bernardino3718825944
Orange3329505675
Sacramento1674002423
Kern1565171781
Fresno1558992246
Santa Clara1511691922
Alameda1246581504
San Joaquin1070001833
Ventura1036461188
Contra Costa1032921045
Stanislaus912991413
Tulare856141082
San Francisco56614669
San Mateo56058629
Monterey52340625
Solano47422356
Santa Barbara47035548
Merced44807664
Sonoma42912412
Placer41881468
Imperial38128769
Kings35038358
San Luis Obispo31294358
Madera26005311
Shasta25917440
Butte25295309
Santa Cruz22028222
Yolo21451257
Marin18342248
El Dorado18166161
Sutter14494181
Napa13372104
Yuba1070088
Tehama10230129
Humboldt10043117
Nevada9914103
Mendocino848894
Lassen792355
San Benito775977
Tuolumne767790
Lake6990110
Amador573766
Siskiyou470954
Glenn455136
Calaveras435685
Del Norte371242
Colusa323519
Inyo254345
Plumas19127
Mono18294
Mariposa156718
Trinity98817
Modoc7475
Unassigned2430
Sierra2170
Alpine1060
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